“Dream on, dream on, dream on. Dream until your dreams come true.” – Aerosmith
As the leader of Southwest Michigan First, my job – beyond my responsibilities of being a good steward of resources and beyond executing our plan of work – is to fill our organization with amazing people and help them achieve their dreams. We recently read The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly for our team book club and from our conversations, we learned a lot about each other’s dreams, including their dream jobs. Nothing was off the table.
Head hunters tell us we’re unique in that when a great job becomes available, I am always happy to refer somebody from our team. This is not because I’m showing them the door, I just want them to understand they have great opportunities. Nothing could make me happier than seeing a member of our team live out their dream. If their dream is to be a CEO of an economic development group, then my job is to help them do that. And head hunters know that they can contact our folks directly and the team knows to tell me. It is completely okay. I want to be their advocate.
Beyond dream jobs, it’s also dreams like owning a home. Throughout the years, we’ve introduced team members to mortgage brokers or realtors, anything we could do to help them in their search for their dream home. I take this role as a really important part of who I am. I’ve shared this story before, but this is so important to me that when we recently added someone to our staff and was sharing that news with my family, my daughter replied, “That’s one more mortgage you are responsible for.” And that is truly how I feel. We want our team members to build lives and families here.
For some, it may be financial independence and zero debt. Sometimes you just need a plan to get there. I’ve given away dozens of copies of Dave Ramsey’s book because it happens to be a plan I know works. He is right in saying, “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”
After reading this book, we made a dream board. When I look at it, I immediately recognize ways I can help my team achieve their dream through my relationships or influence. With others, I have no idea how to help them achieve that dream, but I still want to know about it so I can be open when something comes up. “Dream work” is about connectivity and getting people in touch with the resources they need to succeed. This is what we do at Southwest Michigan First for the companies we work with and it’s not any different on the human level.
Happy people who are moving towards their dreams do amazing things in the other parts of their lives. We want to be part of that. We want to help people dream and then support them as they work to achieve those dreams. That’s one of the reasons I ask each team member every 40 days, “What do you need to succeed? What are your personal priorities?” For some it’s hard talk about dreaming big. They feel awkward about it. But, it really is okay! One of my goals is that I would love to be a United States Ambassador. That’s big! That’s a scary thing to say. People might respond with, “Well who the heck does he think he is?” Dreaming big can make you feel vulnerable, but sharing your dreams might help them come true.
What else do I dream about?
I want to have dinner with Aaron Sorkin, the great screen writer, and Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group. I want to get invited to dinner at the White House and actually be able to go! Twice I’ve been invited: once we had a very important board of directors meeting and the other was Kelsey’s 6th grade dance. I couldn’t miss one and I wouldn’t miss the other, but that’s still a dream of mine. Just because it’s not now doesn’t mean it’s not ever. I want people to know my dreams, because maybe they can help. If we’ll just write our dreams down and share them with relevant people, it’s amazing how many times they come true. Whether you believe in good fortunate or Karma or favor, something intercedes to make those opportunities happen. While it may seem like luck to others, it usually comes down to hard work and making sure that people who want to help you have the opportunity to do so.
As leaders, we also need to share what our dreams are for others without going too far. Any parent knows that a child will tell us our dreams aren’t theirs. But as a leader, my dream for you is to do amazing work, be happy and completely fulfilled. We can tell others things like, “I see you have incredible talent in this area. Do you recognize how that could be used in the world to create more impact and to be the best you?”
Dreams aren’t just about stuff or experiences, they are about happiness and the ability to keep dreaming.
Question: What are your biggest dreams? Have you told someone you respect or trust?
A platform provides amplification. It enables you to be heard above the roar of the crowd. The noise. Modern sound systems leverage natural acoustics and make it possible to speak before tens of thousands of people. Today, modern media—especially social media—provide an opportunity for you to extend your reach even further. – Michael Hyatt
Social media is one of those things I don’t even pretend to fully understand. It changes so rapidly that it would be impossible to keep up. But, I am committed to trying.
For me, social media is my newsfeed. I get to read the news and hear from thought leaders all over the world, people that I might otherwise not even know existed. Of course, some people write great headlines, but have no substance behind it or as they would say in Texas: They are all hat and no cattle. Then there are other amazing people who I glean wisdom from every day. The people that change my life and impact my leadership aren’t necessarily famous and they don’t have a large stage from which to speak or present. That’s one of the reasons I love social media.
I pay most attention to Twitter because I can segment the information. I love quotes and thought leadership, so I have a bunch of quotes-based accounts and thought leaders that I follow and can read all at one time in a list I’ve created. I also segment faith-based leaders, CEOs and traditional business leaders, as well as news media. This allows me to read the “like” information together.
Although I wish more leaders would embrace social media, there are some amazing CEOs on Twitter. Richard Branson shares incredible content, both company content and his own thoughts. Mark Cuban is another one who engages in social media well. I choose to embrace social media because I love the idea that Southwest Michigan First has the ability to be the Mayo Clinic of economic development. We want to be the place that takes ideas, researches them and then makes those ideas open to the public and other community growth groups like economic development organizations, chambers of commerce or downtown development groups.
My grandfather worked very hard in his life and was a huge influence in raising me. He retired when he was 55 years old. Once he finished remodeling the house he was born in and restoring a motorcycle on which he set the land speed record at age 65 on the Bonneville Salt Flats, he didn’t have much else to do. So, in our local Christian County Library, my grandfather read every western, paperback novel on the shelves. He couldn’t keep track of which ones he had read so he would put a little ‘x’ on the binding of the book after he read it. It wasn’t obvious when you looked at one book, but when you saw the entire rack they all had this consistent mark on them. While he lived a great life and was a veracious reader, he readily admitted at the end of his life that he had not done enough to share his knowledge and leadership. Imagine who he could have reached with Twitter or a blog! The same goes for you.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to learn as much as we can and to disseminate that knowledge to our spheres of influence by promoting great ideas. We are blessed in this part of Michigan that we have Zondervan close by, one of the great publishers in America. I like to track new books and authors they have coming out because I want to read the social media feeds of those authors to know what they are talking about. Some of these newer authors, like Carlos Whittaker, give me great insight into a generation of culture that I otherwise don’t have. Bob Goff is another example who is by no means young, but whose message is relevant in today’s world and merits sharing. If I don’t stay relevant, how is our organization going to stay relevant?
These are just a couple of things social media has to offer. As a leader, if you aren’t plugged in yet, I encourage you to do so. I look forward to connecting with you on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as you build your platform.
Question: How are you using social media to share your knowledge? Who are great thought leaders you follow?
Lisa Knowlton, Ed. D. is a passionate advocate for adoption and the Great Lakes. She is a partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc., a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. See: www.pwkinc.com. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience, authored The Logic Model Guidebook (Sage, 2013) and is a W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. She writes about leading and managing change at tinker.
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. – Abraham Lincoln
When influence is used in constructive ways – people applaud. Literally.
One of the most stunning and very public examples of poise was witnessed by 25,000 basketball fans a few years ago. It is likely millions have seen it by now.
From Jeers to Cheers
Picture a lovely and nervous teen girl in a strapless evening dress as she tentatively approaches a microphone in front of a big crowd at the Portland Rose Garden Arena. She stood between the fans and the game start to sing the national anthem. When the teen faltered for words many in the crowd began to jeer.
Portland Trailblazers head coach Maurice Cheeks saw a need. He recognized talent in trouble and walked quickly to her side. Then, he provided her the words she needed…singing along…so she could finish the anthem. (See video here.) The crowd exploded with raucous cheers, a standing ovation and applause.
What an instructive and thoughtful example. Although it wasn’t part of his job or an expectation, while someone else could have helped, he acted. The crowd was thrilled by his leadership. Grounded in compassion, he acted on behalf of another and demonstrated grace. It was a kind and simple thing to do. It served far more than the trembling singer.
Modest & Brave
In December, 2011, the death of a “decent” guy captured the mourning hearts of a nation. A playwright, Vaclav Havel, challenged the Czechoslovak Communist regime. An authentic sense of personal responsibility was Havel’s motivation. As leader of a dissident movement, reflective editorials indicate he talked constantly of “the need to live according to morality, conscience, and responsibility” as well as “the dangers of racism and corruption.”
While the expectations Havel set didn’t endear him to others in the beginning, observers say he was the first to admit his own flaws. He also showed a “synthesis of modesty and bravery” as well as “freedom from pride, hatred and fanaticism.” Eventually Havel became a deeply beloved president and was known worldwide for his perspectives. His most famous essay is The Power of the Powerless. A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Havel authored more than 20 plays and books.
The Toronto Star eulogized him. “Many will ask what made Havel exceptional. The answer is simple: decency. He was a decent principled man.” Havel fought against “an indecent, immoral system.” And, he governed without personal gain in mind. His “first commitment was to common decency and the common good, not to holding power.”
The former chief at Amgen, a biotech company, sought feedback from direct reports in a novel way. He asked them to list his strengths and weaknesses to his board of directors. He also had a painting of General Custer in his office to remind him about the risks of hubris.
Social scientists have shown, and today’s news accounts demonstrate, that when people are given even small doses of power over others, it can produce overconfidence and insensitivity. The biggest prospect and threat to success lies within.
I believe every day offers opportunities for our influence. Leaders lift up others. They can redistribute power and use theirs for common good. Even if you don’t hear applause, it will be evident in the success of others.
- How often do we remark on capable behavior or initiative that would go unnoticed?
- Do we routinely offer enthusiastic references?
- Do we speak up when we witness an inequity or oppression?
- Do we sit (or stand) with a person in distress?
How you see the world depends on how you look. – Kenneth Cole
It’s been a little while since I’ve updated you on my goal of reading 100 books in 2014. So far, I have read 18 books – some good, some not as great. I will warn you, I’ve been reading a lot of fiction lately; sometimes you just need a break from the heavy leadership and business-focused books. (Yes, even I will admit that). Here’s what I’ve been reading recently:
- Bone Deep by Randy Wayne White
Many of you know that as a kid, I struggled with reading. There were no bookstores in my small town, but I would make it a point to visit to Springfield, Missouri to hear my favorite authors speak – who were usually sports stars – when I could. Fast forward several years later to when I was living in Corpus Christi, Texas. Lyn and I drove four hours to Houston in a terrible rainstorm just to see Randy Wayne White for half an hour and have him sign our book. This brought back great memories for me of attending author events as a teenager. If you are not familiar, Randy is a bestselling historic novelist that first got me interested in the history and culture of Florida. If I ever retire and move to Florida, it will be his fault. This is a great “just for fun” read.
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville
As a kid, I tried to read Moby-Dick several times and I could never get through it. Last month, I finished this great American classic simply because I felt I owed it to myself. Overall, I thought it was a good book and it reestablished my interest in reading the classics; however, I will never, ever attempt to read War and Peace! I just have no interest in climbing that mountain.
- Don’t Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk
This is a great story that I have read at least 4 times. It’s about a guy who hits middle age, has a mid-life crisis and decides to leave his New York City life to buy a hotel on a fictitious island. The story chronicles his journey of realizing that his family and hard work brings him true joy – simple changing his location wasn’t the solution. Instead, he needed to change his self-limiting perception of his future. The reason I re-read this again recently is because I ran out of reading material while on vacation and visited the resort’s lending library – the kind where you leave a book and take a book. There were numerous books there that I hadn’t yet read, but I stumbled across a first addition of Don’t Stop the Carnival and knew I had to have it. I wrote the date I found it inside the cover along with a little note: “It must be a sign, of what I don’t know.”
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (all three books in the Millennium trilogy) by Stieg Larsson
To be honest, I read these books because Lyn read them first and then we went to see the movie together. At first I didn’t want to read these because I thought I would be too sensitive to some of the content, but then I saw an interview about how powerful they were and I was intrigued by that kind of depth. The writing is extremely strong, the storyline is interesting and it gave great insight into a different culture. Plus, it has been a pop culture phenomenon that I wanted to understand.
- The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers That Rule Our World by Zachary Karabell
I don’t know if you feel similarly, but I am getting tired of hearing about big data. I honestly have no idea what that phrase even means anymore; it has become so cliché. I was excited to read this book in hopes that it would be more about how to transform and communicate data instead of just vomiting numbers at people. Just because we can measure something, doesn’t mean it matters. How can we use data to make people’s lives better? We need to better discern what is truly relevant. This book tackles that much-needed topic. Plus, it got me back on course for reading some knowledge-based books.
- Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
The title of this book comes from the Marine Corp theory that officers eat last, while junior Marines get to take their place in the front of the line at meal time. This is symbolic of what is to take place on the battlefield, where leaders are expected to make the greatest sacrifices to protect their troops. In my opinion, this book is worth the read just for what you can take away from the first half. It will give you some tremendous insight into what engaged teams look like and the price they are willing to pay to be the best.
As I continue to make headway on my goal of reading 100 books in 2014, I will do my best to keep you updated. Thanks for joining me on this journey.
Question: What books are you reading now?
You’ve got to get up every morning with determination if you’re going to go to bed with satisfaction. – George Horace Lorimer
I heard someone once say, “A job is a job.” What a miserable concept. Knowing that we spend almost 50% of our waking hours on the job, work has to be more than a place you simply get a paycheck. If that’s all it is for you, start looking for a different job right now. People were created to be happy. Americans even included the importance of the pursuit of happiness into our founding documents. You should take pleasure in the work that you do. If your work isn’t giving you any joy, find something else.
With that being said and with summer just around the corner, I know many of our students will be coming home from college with the expectation that they need to get a summer job or internship that will look great on their resume. As someone who has worked for almost 40 years, keep in mind that the most important thing, whatever the job may be, is that you find ways to be successful. And as somebody who looks at resumes almost weekly, if you are taking a position just because you think the title looks good, I will tell you the job title is much less important than the lessons you learn while on the job.
I made 75 cents an hour at my first job (yes, I realize I am starting to sound like my grandfather) working for a Ford dealer by the name of Glen Campbell. I worked every day after school and all day on Saturdays shoveling stalls and working as a groom in his horse barn. It wasn’t glamorous, but I learned great lessons there. The first lesson I learned was the power of having your own money and the ability to control things in your life when you’ve got cash in your pocket. I also learned that physical labor is a great thing. As somebody who sits at a desk most of the day now, I can tell you there are days I miss being on a tractor or shoveling out horse stalls. There is something so rewarding about seeing the physical results of your efforts.
There are lessons to be learned at every job. One of the greatest lessons I ever learned in business was how not to treat people. I had a boss once who believed every employee was there to serve his ultimate goals and he blocked the career advancement of others because it didn’t serve his needs. I vowed that I would never be that guy and that I would never work for a company that operated in that way. (To read more on this story, visit my previous blog post on Life Lessons Disguised).
I have also been blessed to work with some amazing leaders like then United States Senator Jack Danforth, who went on to be the US Ambassador to the United Nations. He was both an Episcopal priest and a Yale-trained lawyer and served as the attorney general of the State of Missouri. He was the kind of man who showed me what it really meant to be a sincere, honest leader. One thing about Jack is that he clearly knew what he stood for. There weren’t any battles of conscience with him.
Back in 1988, I can remember being with him one day when someone aggressively approached him about a particular vote that he had made. He handled it brilliantly. I’ll never forget what he said: You know – I make hundreds and hundreds of votes every year in the senate. That’s my job. In hindsight, there are things that I wish I hadn’t voted the way I did because they didn’t turn out the way I was told, but at the time I made the best decision I could based upon what I thought would yield the best results for the State of Missouri. I’ll have to stick with that now. You are in a large group who doesn’t agree with everything I vote on. My own wife doesn’t agree with everything I vote on. But I am absolutely going to vote my conscience because I can live with that. I hope you can too.
That was one of the greatest leadership lessons I have ever learned. He didn’t apologize for his leadership because at the time, with the information he had, it was the very best he could do. That is something that has stayed with me throughout my leadership journey.
My wish for young men and women, as they make their way into the workforce this summer, is that they all have great bosses. But if they don’t – if they are scooping ice cream for someone who treats them poorly – then use that experience to learn how ice cream is made, how small businesses are run and how not to treat employees. If you can leave at the end of the summer and go back to school with the knowledge of how to run that business better, those are the things I want you to tell me in an interview. What are the lessons you’ve learned? What are the values you took away? It doesn’t matter to me that you scooped ice cream for four hours a day all summer long, but that you understand how to better lead people and how to better operate a business because of the things you experienced. That’s what will make you valuable in the future. That is what you are being hired for. In the end, the title on your business card or the name of the company on the sign doesn’t really impress anyone. In the end, all of these experiences will lead you to the career in which you find real happiness.
Question: What is the best life lesson you learned from a great job or a not-so-great job? How has that experience shaped who you are as a leader today?
If you allow negativity to build up in an organization it becomes toxic. – Rick Warren
If somebody were to ask me where I have failed as a leader over the years, it would be in a lack of being honest with team members on how their behaviors are affecting the organization and the team. Most of us can agree that it is uncomfortable to go to someone on your team whose attitude has changed for the worse or whose skills haven’t grown to match the needs and demands of the organization and have that difficult conversation. But, I have learned over time that frankly it’s unfair, most of all, to that person not to be honest with them. Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that a behavior is self-limiting and that your team members can’t continue on that path expecting to be successful.
My innate tendency is to avoid this kind of confrontation, but I have learned that it is critically important to speak up in these situations because, if I don’t, we could lose great people, or even worse, lose momentum. Great people won’t stay in an environment where they don’t feel valued, where mediocrity is allowed to take hold and where you have to put up with an emotional bully in the organization. And as a good steward of our organizational resources, momentum is something we simply can’t afford to waste.
I have a saying that I probably rely on too much: It will shine when it shines; meaning things will happen when they are supposed to happen. However, sometimes as leaders we must force things to happen and having a critical conversation with a team member is one of those things that leaders must initiate.
In the past, I have made the excuse for bad behavior or poor performance that maybe a particular team member was simply having a bad day, but I learned a great way of handling this situation from one of my leadership role models, Bill Hybels. Bill has taught that when he thinks a bad attitude or rude comment could be attributed to someone just having a bad day, he acknowledges it on the spot and says: let me give you a mulligan, or a do-over shot as they say in golf. Here is what I heard you say…is that really what you intended? If not, let me give you a chance to re-do this interaction. If you want to re-state your comment, we won’t even think about this ever again.
I love how he handles a seemingly difficult situation with grace.
Sometimes, as leaders, we tend to ignore those less-than-ideal behaviors as just an anomaly or an “off” day, but if you ignore those things too long they drive away greatness in your organization and they don’t serve the individual who is struggling. Sometimes this bad behavior is simply a cry for help. Maybe there is a crisis in their life that they don’t know how to handle or talk about, and by responding with grace you can open the door to help. Or, perhaps they have been masking bad behaviors for a long time and they can no longer hide it. Then, you may have to make the tough decision if that person can stay in the organization or if they are doing more harm than good.
As leaders, we all have failures and shortcomings, but the great leaders will fail forward – by learning from their mistakes, improving upon those things in the future and maybe even sharing those failures to help others learn from their experiences too.
Question: How have you failed forward? How have you transformed past shortcomings into future successes or life lessons for those around you?